The Hyperactive Human Spider
Travis Mesman engages in a nonstop battle with gravity. At 34, the dancer and movement artist wages his war against the invisible adversary during each of his performances, whether he's propelling his lithe and muscular body through twisting acrobatic routines, or stilt-walking on a stage like a gigantic daddy longlegs, thumbing his nose at Sir Isaac Newton all the while.
"I like to stay off my feet and off the ground as much as possible," Mesman says.
The conflict has raged for decades. As a teenage gymnast in Alabama, he excelled at back flips and handsprings. Just as his hero, Bruce Lee, drew on myriad martial art methods, Mesman's trained in numerous dance styles. At age 21, he enrolled in the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, learning disciplines ranging from hip-hop and breakin' to jazz and ballet. His arsenal was also shaped by techniques such as capoeira and memberships in such boundary-pushing troupes as the renowned MOMIX company.
Mesman landed in Phoenix in 2005, studying for an MFA in education and performance technologies at ASU and soon thereafter partnered with aerialist/dancer Nicole Graffeo. While the pair's used fancy footwork in more traditional roles with Scottsdale's Desert Dance Theatre, they truly dig on catching some air.
Mesman loves pushing the body to its limits. His head, torso, knees, and other parts are often incorporated: He can rest on his shoulders while stretching his legs vertically, or stage "cool balancing tricks" with Graffeo.
The pair formed "Cultivating Flight" to help the Valley's artistic dance scene flourish. They occasionally perform stunts at monthly showcases of burlesque ensemble Scandalesque (where Graffeo usually does airborne acts with hoops and a trapeze). Mesman's donned stilts at an Angela Johnson fashion show, but his most eye-catching exploits come strapped into a cable-and-harness setup. He soars pendulum-style and unleashes midair maneuvers, improvising stunning flips and spins. At corporate shindigs and parties, he's also walked on walls or jumped along the sides of multi-story buildings (à la Fred Astaire).
"We're always trying to change our orientation, like dancing on walls. You're horizontal and figuring out how to work against gravity with the rope and the harness," he says. "It can be scary, but if you practice and know what you're doing it's okay." (Videos and pictures of their stunts can be found on www.cultivatingflight.com.)
It allows comparison to a more infamous wall-walker. "Yeah," he jokes, "you can call me Spider-Man."
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